Seen from the Mer the Glace, the one satellite of Grands Charmoz catches the eye of every adventurous alpine climber. The esthetic shape of an index finger pointing towards the sky is a serious temptation for those who like to stand on top of a sharp rock needle with 1000m of air between them and the glacier.
The first ascent of Aiguille de la République was done already in 1904 by Joseph Simond. To ascend the slightly leaning top-pillar, a top-rope was sent over from the Grand Charmoz by using a crossbow! Today the technical, 20m long slab, is equipped with bolts and is either aided (A0) or free climbed (6c+). There are several routes leading to the summit, the most popular are the Normal Route and Republique Bananière, the latter being considerably harder.
The Normal Route to La République offers a relatively easy way to the summit needle. Still it is long and requires extensive mountaineering and rock climbing skills. The route is 600m of mainly grade 4 alpine rock climbing that requires efficacy in rope maneuvers, route finding and progress on traditional gear.
It combines two different aspects of alpine rock climbing; first less technical terrain where you move together with your partner and only occasionally make belays, possibly climbing in big mountaineering boots. Then the last 100m becoming rock climbing in its common meaning with vertical pitches on steep, orange granite. It is a good test piece for the confirmed alpine climber.
The hike up to Refuge Envers des Aiguilles is about 3h in a beautiful scenery. When climbing La République this summer, 19-20 of July, we passed the hut in the afternoon to fill up our camel backs and our stomachs with a big and tasty omelette. Late afternoon we headed for the climb, choosing to experience an amazing sunset on the very mountain instead of sleeping in the crowded hut. There is a perfect bivouac ledge 200m above the base of the route where we spent a pleasant night under the stars.
Before tucking ourselves into our down jackets and sleeping bags on the ledge we had a good exercise of 2 hours from the hut with our fairly heavy back packs. The first obstacle to pass is the massive bergschrund. Often it is possible to pass over on the rocks right of the bergschrund. If not, some topos suggest to climb the 10m high ice wall, but that looks like a very acrobatic mission. Once on the upper snow field, getting onto the actual route can also be quite exciting. Therefore conditions are better earlier in the summer season than later.
The initial rock ramp leads to sections of cracks and ledges. The climbing up to the perfect bivouac spot is enjoyable. After passing a dihedral with a big block jammed in it, there is a belay on slings and a narrow ledge. Traversing the ledge to the left it opens up to 10x10m of flat ground with views onto Aig Vert, Aig de Moine, Petits and Grandes Jourasses, and Dent du Geant… adding to that scenery, an evening meal, great company and a warm and clear night, and you are not suffering!
The main part of the hight meters on this route are gained in the wide couloir dominating the space below the Grands Charmoz. The terrain is easy on compact slabs and cracks, but the itinerary is full of optional variations. Just before reaching the grey shield of slabs leading up to Grands Charmoz, the traverse in made towards La République. Crossing a gully just underneath the col (de la République) and a traversing further right on ledges leads out on the actual peak.
From there it is proper climbing in the 4c-5c register. A nice variety of crack, dihedral, ridge and slab climbing. To finish, the last pitch is strengtheous and technical even if aided (compared to the rest of the route). The excitment increases with the exposure on this last pitch that culminates on a super airy summit, no wider than 30cm. Less than 4,5 hours after waking up with the first lights we were standing on the summit of La République, soaking in the amazing 360 degree view.
It is a grandiose atmosphere on this mythical summit. Standing on top, one can pretend to by flying. A sensation of achievement makes us smile, even though knowing that the adventure has only started. Reversing the whole itinerary can take almost as long time the ascent, mostly by rappelling and short sections of traversing and down climbing. Belays (slings around blocks) is in place (but not always easy to find) for the common descent piste. For the last 4 rappels down to the glacier, the belays on Republique Bananière are used.
From there it is about 2,5 hours walk back the the Montenvers train. Finally it is a long day that really gives a feeling of having completed a true alpine climb. The route is graded D+. For climbers in the 6 grades the climb is a pleasure, and 7-grade rock climbers get the opportunity to discover the dimesion of alpinism. Overall it is a complete tour that demands a passion for the mountains.
– Enverses des Aiguilles by Michel Piola, classic guide book from 2006, the best for that area.
– Sommets du Mt Blanc by Jean-Louis Laroche and Florance Lelong, accurate descriptions and information as well as a great inspiration to climbing classics in the Mt Blanc massif.